How big an obstacle is low ATAR to university admission?

In response to my Grattan Institute colleague Ittima Cherastidtham’s op-ed supporting ATAR, Victoria University VC Peter Dawkins and Professor Yong Zhao say in The Australian that

“…good universities should be able to reduce the impact of ATAR on students’ futures by providing education opportunities to those who, for all sorts of reasons, did not achieve high ATARs in school. When universities simply continue the trajectory set by ATAR, they fail their mission to change lives, to alleviate the impact of inequity and to lift people out of the conditions they are born into.”

There is no doubt that people with high ATARs are much more likely to be at university than those with low ATARs. To a substantial extent, this is because they are more likely to apply, as the chart below shows.

application levels

If we just look at the tertiary admissions centre data for school leavers, low-ATAR students are less likely to receive offers. In the year of the chart above, less than half of TAC applicants with an ATAR below 60 received an offer (48 per cent, to be precise).

But this underestimates how much the system works to find a way to admit low-ATAR students. There has been a big increase in direct-to-the-university applications and offers in recent years, and these result in much higher offer rates. The chart below uses ATARs from direct applications where available and also ‘recovers’ ATARs from previous or concurrent applications by the same person, using their CHESSN. Offer rates go from less than half to 70 per cent or more at many low-ATAR levels.


Often, the ATAR will not be the basis of admission for low-ATAR students. As the Dawkins and Zhao article says, Victoria University often uses other metrics for admission, and they are not alone in this. Sometimes the student will have taken a higher education diploma or done a TAFE course, and that is used over Year 12 results.

It’s likely, too, that these results could be higher than they are if students were less selective in what they applied for. Having a low ATAR does significantly reduce the range of courses a student can take. But if a low-ATAR student really wants to go to university, chances are that there will be a university willing to take them.

The next post will have more on what happens to low-ATAR students after they start their university studies.


3 thoughts on “How big an obstacle is low ATAR to university admission?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s